Correction appended. See below.
Since 1965, the Committee on Special Educational Projects has been a driving force in promoting diversity among the Cornell student body. In a university that preaches “any person, any study,” James A. Perkins, president of Cornell from 1963 to 1969, created COSEP out of concern that black students were underrepresented in predominantly white institutions of higher learning.
Since then, the Committee has evolved into an office with various service partnerships across campus. The goal is to enroll and retain minorities and students with economically or academically disadvantaged backgrounds.
According to Raymond Dalton, executive director of COSEP, the network has extended to include partnership organizations on campus, some of which are the Learning Strategies Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Pre-Freshman Summer Program (PSP). The program has expanded to serve Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, as well as multiethnic and black students. Through the services, COSEP has made a significant impact on the student body.
One of its effects is the improvement in academic performances of underrepresented groups on campus.
“There was and still is a gap between underrepresented minorities and the majority population in terms of graduation rate. That gap has been closing over the years,” Dalton said.
Along with the graduation gap, Dalton said the services have also been helping to reduce the GPA gap that has existed between the minority students and the rest of the student population. The New York State funded Higher Educational Opportunity Program for the endowed colleges and the Educational Opportunity Program for the statutory colleges has worked to close the gaps. HEOP and EOP provide academic and financial aid for New York State residents that come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They are required to utilize certain services partnered with COSEP.
“HEOP and EOP students perform better, have a higher graduation rate … their GPA doesn’t lag. Their performance is at rate with the rest of the population,” Dalton said.
COSEP has made the services that HEOP/EOP students are required to utilize available to students who are not New York State residents.
Not all minority students are involved in COSEP, and some do well without the services. Nonetheless, for those who choose to participate, “we are providing services that have produced many successful graduates over the years, producing more Cornell alums who go on to become accomplished professionals in a wide array of fields,” Dalton said.
Despite the impact COSEP has had, Dalton expressed concern about the amount of underrepresented minorities enrolled in the University. He said there has been a flat line of black and Latino students over the past 20 years, pointing to statements made by President David Skorton.
In column for The Cornell Daily Sun in September 2006, Skorton wrote that the percentage of students who do not consider themselves as white has more than doubled from 20 percent in 1985, to 43 percent in 2005. But, when focusing on blacks and Hispanics, there has been no significant increase. Hispanics have gone up from 3 percent in 1985 to 5 percent in 2005, while blacks have remained static at about 4 percent. Currently, the student body is 7 percent Hispanic, 5 percent black.
“There’s been a fluctuation with Native American growth, but there has been an improvement because of the inclusion of grad students. Asian enrollment has grown, presently about 17 percent of the undergraduate population. That’s a pretty healthy percentage,” Dalton said. “But we don’t have any growth for the other two populations.”
Edward Chalen ’09 participated in the Pre-freshman Summer Program, a six-week program that prepares some COSEP students for Cornell by familiarizing him with the campus and the University’s various services, before he entered as a freshman. The program also covered his Summer Savings Expectation, a financial aid package for students to earn money to help cover college expenses.
“When I came to campus, I knew the general locations. I knew where the dean’s offices were and things like that. It made me feel more comfortable in the school,” he said. “You could either work some place back at home for the summer, or you can get used to people at Cornell and the Ithaca area. It will take away the Summer Savings Expectation.”
Chalen was unsatisfied with the classes that were offered to him at PSP, finding only one of his three courses helpful for freshman year.
“The benefit of it is that you get familiarized with the University, but academically it didn’t help much,” he said.
Nonetheless, COSEP continues to improve the academic performance and improvement its students have been making.
“We do not yet have the kind of nuanced understanding we need of how the COSEP programs that do in fact help the students who succeed. We also don’t yet have a good enough sense of which programs are the most successful, and which should be revised or even rejected because they may not be doing enough,” Chalen said.
She said that this is a problem with universities across the country with programs similar to COSEP. Under the leadership of Provost Biddy Martin, the University is looking to revamp COSEP.
“With the Provost’s support, we are carefully reviewing and reshaping some central COSEP programs and we are drawing on the expertise of nationally recognized experts in the field to assist us in our efforts,” Moody-Adams said.
Correction appended: “COSEP Supports C.U. Minority Population” quotes Edward Chalen ’09 saying that the University does not yet fully understand how COSEP helps students. The quote should have been attributed to Michelle Moody-Adams, vice provost of undergraduate education.
Correction appended. See below.